Xanax & Mean Girls
I’ve consumed a great deal of alcohol over the years, and a modest amount of cannabis. I’ve tried other drugs intermittently, and never really warmed to anything other than juice and herb. There are a few drugs I’ve tried once, or a handful of times.
Xanax, the anti-anxiety drug, was the 19th most prescribed medication in the United States in 2016, with more than 27 million prescriptions.
Xanax 2003 (btw, not a bad name for a boy band)
After moving to NYC in 2000, I was a professor, single, and not much else. Not a lot of friends, not many interests, and had lost most professional trajectory. My career had exploded trying to make the jump to light speed when the dot-com crash revealed I was wearing no clothes.
I fell very much in love with a medical student who lived in Connecticut. She was smart, beautiful and had a Jack Russell Terrier. She was also bipolar and bisexual. I had recently left San Francisco, a life that had the edge and culture of Banana Republic. Any attribute (or illness) with the word “bi” in it was for me a feature, not a bug. It made me seem less boring. Interesting even.
We never got sick of talking science, medicine, and the human condition. She was fascinating and seemed fascinated with me. I expected we would date another year and get engaged. Or maybe have a kid first (see above: desperately seeking edge).
One weekend at her family’s place in Greenwich, her father and brother pulled me aside to tell me she was going “dark,” their term for when she was becoming depressed. I had, a year into the relationship, never seen any evidence of the illness she struggled with. On the contrary, our relationship had less drama than any I’d been in. As a thirty-something male who had mistaken luck for talent, I was convinced I could fix anything. I decided a long weekend away was the cure for all things, including mental illness. So, we headed to St. Barths for a few days.
About a year before, I had developed a fairly intense fear of flying — anxiety, mild panic attacks mid-flight. A real inconvenience for a guy logging 200K miles a year either raising money or telling Audi how to position their brand (consulting gigs). My doc girlfriend told me not to worry, she’d get me some Xanax for the flight. I took the pill, and we sat in our seats. We had the row to ourselves. My Xanax trip was off to a good start. My doc began speaking to an overweight woman with a neck tattoo and big jewelry in the aisle seat across the aisle.
Boom, no anxiety … asleep before wheels up. I woke up about an hour into the flight, and the doc was now in the middle seat. Ms. Neck Tattoo had moved to the aisle seat in our row and was holding hands with my doc. They were in the midst of what was an obviously intense conversation. The notion that a strange woman had moved seats to hold hands with my girlfriend seemed natural, even obvious when riding the Xanax train, and I drifted off.
I woke up again thirty minutes later to find neck tattoo staring intensely into the doc’s eyes as she (no joke) lovingly stroked my girlfriend’s hair and face. However, my blue football experience seemed to sand the edges of concern that my girlfriend was on, what appeared to be, her third date with a poorly dressed lesbian. They weren’t at a movie or a restaurant, but in aisle 8 with the (soon to be ex-) boyfriend next to them, asleep and drooling. Good. Times.
Again, I dreamt on. When stirred from my slumber by a hard landing in St. Marten, I registered my first dose of anxiety imagining what might be going on in the “even more space” seats next to me. But … no neck tattoo. The doc put lip balm on me and massaged my hands. We never mentioned her budding relationship with the lady across the aisle again.
Surprisingly, despite how awesome I am, I was unable to cure my girlfriend’s mental illness with a weekend in St. Barths. However, as a self-absorbed jerk with little empathy, my brush with PG13 depression scared the shit out of me, and I told the doc on the flight back that our relationship was over. Update: the doc lives in the Southwest with her husband and twin girls and is a well-regarded hand surgeon.
My 89-year-old father visited last week. I was, as I often am, up at 2 am on my computer browsing jets on controller.com and doing email. From the guest room where my dad is staying I hear, in a distressed tone, “Oh Christ … Fuck me … Bloody hell!” I enter the room and see my dad struggling to get his fingers down the drain of the sink of the vanity. He looks at me and whimpers, “I’ve dropped my medication down the drain, and I need it.”
I tell him it’s gone and we’ll get him some more in the morning. He is very upset, lies down on his bed, looks at me, and says, “I just want to die already.” The next morning we figure out his medication is Xanax. It’s clear he’s addicted and is going through some sort of withdrawal. The long-term effects of addiction are largely irrelevant when you are 89, as they’re … long-term. Whatever gives him comfort, right? Fortunately, Xanax is in more households in South Florida than air conditioning, maybe even Amazon Prime (82% of US households). The two parties asked for Xanax don’t respond with a yes/no but a question: “What size?”
With his new cache of 1mg z-bars my dad enjoys the rest of his stay, and then heads home, easily navigating a 2500-mile journey with a stopover in Atlanta and a taxi home. He is addicted, and it’s a good thing.
Keith Boesky (1965–2019)
Keith Boesky passed away this week after battling cancer. Keith and I were in the same fraternity at UCLA. He was handsome, smart, and from an affluent family. I was intimidated by Keith. Even after splitting into tribes known as fraternities, we further splintered into different tribes within the fraternity, groups of 6-8 guys. Keith and my mini-tribe decided we didn’t like each other and developed biases. If this sounds petty, immature, and just plain small, trust your instincts.
I ran into Keith 25 years later at DLD, a tech conference in Munich. Keith had established himself as one of the world’s premier thought leaders on video games and VR. I attended several of his talks. He would mix intellectual heft with showmanship, gesturing to the AV guys to turn out the lights before he’d launch a dozen luminant drones over our heads.
We had a lot in common and liked each other. We’d find time to grab coffee each year at the conference. Back in the US, Keith would reach out and suggest we get together in NYC, as we had a lot in common. I never found the time. Much of it was life — busy with family and work. However, and I’m not proud of this, I think some of this was remnant mean-girls pettiness where, somewhere in my brain, I had decided Keith and I shouldn’t be close friends.
After hearing about Keith’s passing, some things began to make more sense. When I first ran into Keith at DLD he was probably 45, but looked older. In addition, he could be a bit tone deaf and, within 60 seconds of seeing you, would begin boasting about his son (enough already). It’s obvious now that Keith was sick and had registered what mattered. His family had become so present in his conscience there was no concealing his love and pride for his son, projected on anybody he was speaking to.
I went to Keith’s Facebook page to read some of the nice things people said about him. I found two of Keith’s most recent posts:
“On this Yom Kippur I will spend the day wrapped in my beloved Grandfather’s Talit and feel his love and warmth again. I wish all those observing גמר חתימה טובה G’mar Chatimah Tovah, an easy fast, and hope you find something to provide the warmth and comfort I do in the memory of my Grandfather on this day.”
“Not at all humble brag . . . My son (Kevin) designed a part in Jeff Bezos’ big clock. For 17 years I met Danny Hillis at various conferences and had the great pleasure each time to introduce myself as a complete stranger. Then my son spent a summer working with Danny on the big clock. The next time I saw Danny he came running from across the room and said “Kevin’s dad!” All it took was the right introduction, and I never felt better.”
Keith was a leader in his field, a visionary even, which is meaningful. He was also, clearly, a very loving man, which is profound.
We are here for so little time. When we’re not open to overtures of friendship, we are here for less. I wish I’d been a bigger person and better friends with Keith.
Life is so rich,